It should come as no surprise in the wake of ongoing book bans and Pride pushback that once again, June comes and goes with a host of library-sponsored storytimes, book displays, and events being bombarded with hate. In some cases, that hate led to the cancelation or disruption of events, and in other cases, libraries were able to carry forward offering materials and activities serving the entirety of their community — not just the vocal minority.
Lil Miss Hot Mess, author of The Hips on the Drag Queen Go Swish, Swish, Swish, a popular storytime option for Pride-themed drag queen storytimes, is a board member of Drag Story Hour. I reached out to her to talk a bit about what she has seen and experienced in terms of Pride this year in relation to library and community events. “From my own personal experience (I, unfortunately, don’t have data for Drag Story Hour as a whole), it seemed that there were more events this year. I know I certainly received my typical number of requests for Pride bookings (or maybe even more), and I felt like I was seeing event listings all over the country.”
She says this with a caveat, noting that there seemed to be a slight shift in where the requests were emerging.
“Many were produced by bookstores, other small businesses, and Pride festivals, so it’s possible that the number of events held by public libraries themselves had declined. I think we’re in a paradoxical moment: because of the backlash against drag story hours, we’ve received more and more press — but the good news is that more and more communities are eager to organize and attend drag story hours.”
Lil Miss Hot Mess says that Pride is a time when she and fellow Drag community members get the opportunity to shine. This year, with changing legislation, rising hatred, and increased fears around what may or may not be received by a community, the air around these events felt a bit different.
“I think many of us felt a bit of extra fear and anxiety approaching our events as we’ve seen the intensification of backlash, including very credible reports that groups like the Proud Boys were mobilizing especially hard to target this year’s Pride celebrations and story hours,” she explained. “And while there were certainly protests and threats from these groups, thankfully our chapters and storytellers were especially prepared to keep our communities safe and keep our events focused on the magic of drag and reading. I mean, it’s ridiculous that we live in a country where we need to do safety trainings and make security plans just to read to children, but they certainly helped give me more peace of mind. To be honest, I had some sleepless nights before events, but at the end of Pride, I breathed a huge sigh of relief that we were able to demonstrate that the show must go on!”
Find below a roundup of stories highlighting this year’s challenges across the country specifically related to Pride, plus a couple of bonus non-U.S. stories. These are broken up by book displays, books gone “missing,” drag storytimes and other Pride events, with a bonus category that highlights things that don’t fit neatly in the previous three. As should be clear by now, these are only stories being shared in the media, and in the cases of libraries being hit by CatholicVote’s “Hide the Pride,” I’ve elected to take that organization at its face value in the claims they made of success, even when local media did not cover the story. Why? Because the media is itself complicit in this ongoing fascism, given how much is buried behind paywalls (which you’ll see plenty of here, too). In some cases — whether or not it is the appropriate decision — libraries elect not to publicize what has happened and/or are unaware they became targets of the coordinated effort. In other cases, the discussion happened on social media and/or in board meetings, with no publicizing beyond that. I’ve not included stories where there is no link to something.
It is worth noting, too, that public libraries in the U.S. begin preparing if they haven’t for what the conservative publisher Brave Books plans for “events” across the country August 5.
Lil Miss Hot Mess reminds everyone, too, not to forget to keep fighting for Pride and LGBTQ+ people outside of Pride month. The stakes are too high, especially not.
“It’s great to celebrate Pride in June, but I think we need to remember to be supportive of intersectional LGBTQ+ people and stories all year long. Drag Story Hour shouldn’t just be once a year, but should be once a month (or more), so kids have opportunities not just for a taste of queer culture and history, but to really go deep in understanding and celebrating what makes us all special. And similarly, LGBTQ+ books shouldn’t just be for drag story hours, but should be included regularly in displays, book reviews, and all sorts of programming.”
Pride Display Dismantling, Complaints
After complaints about Pride displays in 2021, Orem Public Library (UT) banned them in 2022, later adding any displays honoring heritage months. This year, there was no Pride display, but the library was threatened with a lawsuit if they chose not to create a Pride display by the end of June. Keep an eye out on this one as the Foundation for Individual Rights and Expression prepares to sue the library for violating First Amendment Rights. This is a complex, complicated story and the article here lays out the history leading to this moment well.
Prior to the beginning of June, Mid-Continent Public Library System — the largest in Missouri — implemented policies that ban Pride displays in children’s and young adult areas of the library, even with material designated for those age groups. The decision comes not at the hands of the library but the state, which has implemented some of the most damaging legislation against LGBTQ+ books in the country.
Lafayette Parish Public Library (Louisiana) has banned Pride displays from the facility. These aren’t the only displays impacted, though, by the decision which came down from the library director. Women’s History and Black History Month displays will likely not occur anymore, either. Why? Well, it’s not because they’re not allowed. It’s to be “proactive” in not encouraging book banners to ban the books on display. This is censorship, if you’re wondering.
Here’s a story that played out all June long. The E.G. Fisher Public Library in Athens, Tennessee, put up a display at the beginning of the month, but it quickly got removed. Citizens showed up to the city council to ask what happened and demand the library put the display back up. This initial story is a little dodgy on details, but it notes that the mayor and vice mayor were approached by citizens unhappy with the display. A report from a Tennessee news station talked about the chilling effect their anti-drag law has had on Pride month and, as it turns out, the vice mayor from Athens said that the city council talked with the librarian about the display, saying that libraries should remain neutral (public libraries really screwed themselves over ever playing into this false idea of “neutrality,” and this is a great example as to why). An ethics investigation was opened in the case, and while the city attorney did not believe there was a violation — remember, this is the mayor and vice mayor who demanded the display be taken down — the library’s response was that they were afraid if they didn’t remove it, they’d lose their funding. This is not an unfounded fear, given trends in the country, and more, this is also a textbook example of Big C censorship.
The J. Robert Jamerson Memorial Library in Appomattox, Virginia, removed a Pride display after complaints. Then the county board of supervisors decided to fire the library board as a response. Some of the library board was reinstated though. This story is a terrifying example of government overreach on so many levels.
Oconee County Library in Watkinsville, Georgia, came under fire from local right-wingers over Pride book displays. There was actually no news story on this — at least available online — but this story was submitted to the local Reddit page and the comments are worth reading. I’m not entirely sure whether the display remained or was removed, but some of the Pride display complainers also seemed to lodge complaints about a book read during story time, as that did make the local news. The story is unclear, though: apparently the book was not approved by the library board — remember, this is not the job of the library board to approve books or programming — and now the city council is going to figure out how to make that part of their job.
The Erie County Public Library system in Pennsylvania was hit with complaints over a Pride display in the children’s area of the Blasco library. In response to the complaint, the director allegedly said the display had to come down, so it was removed. But then the staff were also not allowed to speak on the issue at all, and in the story that is paywalled for me, someone suggested that the display was simply taken down because such displays honoring identity have never been replaced before. In place of the Pride display that was dismantled, there was a sign put up explaining why it was removed and not replaced.
In what has now been a two-year-long battle, Travelers Rest Public Library, part of the Greenville system in South Carolina, put up a Pride display. There were complaints about such displays in the system last year, and library administration said no more would be allowed. The branch manager in Travelers Rest decided to go for it anyway due to a loophole in the board’s policy from last year — kudos to them! — and the display was able to stay up, thanks to the tune of an extra $25,000 in security being put in place for that branch. It is very possible the board will outright ban Pride displays next year.
County Commissioner Chris Latvala complained about a Pride display at Palm Harbor Library in Florida, so naturally, the display disappeared. Nice fascism right there.
North Shelby Library in Alabama heard dozens of complaints (and heard support) over a Pride display in the children’s area. The display stayed up.
And in a small Arizona public library, “[w]hen the Prescott Valley Public Library created a small display for Pride in the children’s section of the library, representatives from the Prescott Valley Republican Women and Granite Mountain Republican Women’s group harassed librarians. Women from the group called for librarians to resign from their positions or requested they be fired, says Freibott.” How embarrassing to consider yourself a patriot and that you defend liberty and justice for all and you spend your time demanding book displays be removed and librarians deserve harassment?
“Hide The Pride” and Disappearing LGBTQ+ Books on Pride Displays
A trend worth paying attention to in this roundup: there are a lot of events that got canceled, but there are an equal number — or more — which carried forth, even after complaints.
Before diving into the less-great news, how about we begin with a positive story? Peabody Public Library in Columbia City, Indiana, knew there had been pushback against Pride in their community. So what they did was check out all of the books on display to read and celebrate them. We know the difference between this story and ones to come is that patrons picked them up to be proud of them, to read them, to support the library’s displays and circulation numbers, and to return them when they are due.
Ferndale Public Library (Michigan) was hit early by the “Hide the Pride” campaign. They publicized it immediately, which also meant they could enjoy some good publicity when they restocked their shelves with even more LGBTQ+ books.
Rancho Penasquitos, a branch library of the San Diego Public Library System (CA), saw protesters check out the books on the Pride display. It’s not mentioned whether or not this was a specific “Hide the Pride” initiative or a response to not getting events canceled like they wanted across the system.
Twenty books were checked out in the Essex Library in Connecticut. Again, this doesn’t name “Hide the Pride,” but it was done in protest.
We do know that Greenwich Public Library (CT) was hit by “Hide the Pride.”
Louisville Public Library (KY) also got hit by “Hide the Pride.”
CatholicVote claims “Hide the Pride” hit a branch of the Chicago Public Library (where the person who did the crime also requested a display window about the Blessed Mary and got it), Santa Clarita Public Library (CA), Huntsville-Madison County Public Library (AL), Arapahoe Library District (CO), and Spring Branch Memorial Library (TX).
Drag & Pride Storytime, Event Cancelations
“I know it’s an incredibly difficult time for librarians (and educators of all stripes), but they’re some of the best fighters for freedom, so I hope our communities will show their support for them and their programming as well. This means showing up to events, writing letters or emails of support, showing up to library board meetings, and all that jazz, so that we drown out the vocal minority (because they are a minority!) crusading against LGBTQ+ books and programs,” said Lil Miss Hot Mess. She emphasized that, “[t]his is especially important in public libraries: we need to remind the haters that LGBTQ+ people are part of our communities, and libraries (like all public institutions) have a responsibility to reflect the many diversities among us. We need to be sure not to normalize this bigotry, and instead to remind people that their hatred has no place here.”
After receiving threats, the Tigard Public Library (OR) canceled their Drag Queen Storytime out of an abundance of caution. This particular library was targeted thanks to a Fox News article calling them out as a library offering such an event. It is impossible not to see the ties between the two.
The Weeks Memorial Library in Lancaster, New Hampshire, was offering its space for a drag story time to be hosted by White Mountains Pride. They got so many complaints, including an online petition, that the event was canceled (even though it was not a library event).
At Virginia M. Tutt Library (Indiana), the Proud Boys showed up to storm a rainbow storytime. They were wearing white supremacist symbols and became so intimidating, the library canceled the event. Who is the real danger here?
New York’s Woodstock Library saw pushback for hosting a drag story time, but they voted to keep it going, despite protests.
Shelby Public Library in North Carolina held a Pride craft event. Then the bigots came to complain, and they went straight to the city council, rather than the library board. They suggested that the library be defunded because of this event (it did not happen, and the event happened, too).
The city manager of Ketchikan Public Library (AK) said no drag queen storytime this year, following the same decision made by the city council.
Cobleigh Library in Vermont saw protestors show up to a poetry reading held by a local queer, Black poet. They ended the event early for everyone’s safety. “An hour into the event, which St. Negritude described as ‘a very simple gathering … for anyone to bring a book and to read aloud your favorite queer poet,’ library staff alerted him to a small group of protesters who were standing outside holding signs with religious slogans such as ‘Prepare to meet thy God.'”
Two stories hit my neck of the woods this month, and both were worthy of the best dramatic acting by the bigots. First: protestors were mad that Rockton Public Library (IL) plans to host an event with a drag queen for teens about makeup and styling. The event was supposed to be in person but moved to virtual. The crisis actors wanted it canceled and created all kinds of interesting conspiracy theories about the event (look at all of the older white people in this photo and the children they’re actively grooming to be hateful). The event will happen. Down the road in Belvidere, the Ida Public Library dealt with people mad about a rainbow party with some Pride-themed crafts (the event went on).
Glendale, California, canceled its library drag queen storytime. This story has fewer details than most, though it is interesting the same drag artist attended an event the same morning this one was canceled.
Even though a group of pastors in Mobile, Alabama, believed their hatred was more important than the rights of everyone else in their community, the city library’s “taxpayer-funded” drag storytime carried on. They love that “taxpayer-funded” bit, as though their tax-exempt religious institutions deserve any say about it.
At the Wilmette Public Library (IL), a lone protestor was mad about a rainbow storytime. The attendees pushed back through loud singing. This is the example to set for kids. It’s too bad kids should not need to be exposed to this hatred in the first place.
I’m including a story here without a link, but which I engaged personally. The Deerfield Public Library (IL) faced an onslaught of harassment for hosting a rainbow storytime in June. The event went forward without incident, but prior to it, they received not only complaints but a flood of support (according to director Amy E. Falasz-Peterson, “This past week, we have been overwhelmed with the outpouring of support and love from our Deerfield community, neighboring communities, and library colleagues around the nation. We have received over 100 emails of support. You’ve spoiled us with cookies, bagels, flowers, and encouragement. The Deerfield Public Library supports lifelong learning and we strive to make our library an inclusive place by offering a wide variety of programs. We believe that it is up to each individual to determine what programs fit the needs of their family.”
And maybe one of my favorite stories of library Pride panic is this one: the Athens, Ohio, library got some publicity from one man determined to claim they have a gay agenda, so the local newspaper went to set the record straight. Guess who does not look good in this story?
More Stories Worth Knowing
“The Fort Worth Public Library [TX] removed an LGBTQ reading challenge from its Mayor’s Summer Reading Challenge after city leadership received complaints.” But I thought this was not about getting rid of LGBTQ books? I’m so confused about what this is all about if it’s not anti-LGBTQ and not book banning.
Dishing Out Drag with Giganta Smalls, a teen event being hosted by three different Massachusetts public libraries, saw several nonsense complaints. The Rowley Public Library saw petitions to cancel the event (this via the petition to support the event), while Joshua Hyde Public Library saw some folks saying the library should lose all of its funding (it did not). The event was made financially possible through discretionary funding, not tax money.
Butte-Silver Bow Public Library (MT) canceled an event that invited a trans speaker, citing a single complaint and fear it might be in violation of the state’s new law, HB 359. Trans people are, as it turns out, not considered people in Montana.
In Great Falls, Montana, the public library pulled out of the annual Pride parade due to the same anti-drag legislation.
Milton Public Library in Delaware had to take down the Pride flag hanging on the building, per a new decision from the city’s government.
Lastly, let’s end this roundup with revisiting a favorite library system of late, High Plains District Library. You might remember them from firing a librarian who said their new programming policies were discriminatory (who then won her lawsuit against them). Prior to June, the library district was on board to be part of a collaborative Pride series of events, but they withdrew suddenly, with little explanation. There’s still little explanation for this now, and the area planned for a different Pride event to keep celebrating the month.
Final Words from Lil Miss Hot Mess
When asked about her own experiences with Pride this year, Lil Miss Hot Mess shared one of her favorite experiences and where and how 2023 felt different than years prior. “I got to host a story hour at Seattle’s PrideFest and appear on their mainstage. It’s truly so special to see kids and families turn out for these events, and to see so many kids dress up in their most sparkly and fabulous outfits, and sing and dance along to my books and others! I’m not one who thinks that all Pride activities need to be kid-friendly, but it truly brings me joy to create unique spaces where kids can creatively express themselves, test out the waters of their identities, and be part of queer communities and histories,” she said.
“Overall, it was also very moving to see Pride become a bit more political again: it’s great to have a party, but this year, it really felt like there was a greater consciousness that we need to fight for our rights, and especially for justice for the most targeted among us.”